(File photo)

The Puerto Princesa City Police Office (PPCPO) increased their visibility in church areas and other places of convergence in the city following reports about two foreign-looking nationals who were observed acting suspiciously on Thursday afternoon during a mass in the Immaculate Conception Cathedral.

Police Lieutenant Colonel Aristotle Castillo, operations chief of the PPCPO, said Friday the increase in police visibility is to ease the worry of city residents due to the two reported foreigners who were allegedly caught by a CCTV and some churchgoers acting dubiously inside the cathedral.

“Veni-verify pa kasi ang report. Although may nakitang tao doon sa CCTV pero kino-confirm pa kung ano ‘yong mga nationality noon, kung ano ‘yong mga… may mga ini-interview pa kasi. Hinihintay lang namin ‘yong report kung ano ‘yon. Maglalagay tayo, magdadagdag tayo ng police visibility, especially sa parating na Sunday habang may activities doon sa [cathedral],” Castillo said.

He said the “verification” regarding the two foreign personalities is being assisted by the Western Command (WESCOM).

But “for prevention and to alleviate the feeling of anxiety of residents,” Castillo said they have increased police visibility in all church and mosque areas and other public places.

“Tulong-tulong kami na veni-verify ‘yon. Initially, of course, for prevention, mag-i-increase tayo ng visibility doon. Sa lahat ng place of convergence… na medyo maraming tao,” he said.

Castillo said their investigation has to be “very careful” to avoid “wrongfully accusing” the two who might be merely foreign tourists visiting the cathedral on April 25.

But one thing positive about the report, he said, is “the test of public vigilance,” because reports were immediately made to authorities.

“At least alam na nila kung ano ‘yong mga dapat gawin, kung ano ‘yong mga dapat bantayan. Vigilance pa rin talaga, No. 1 ‘yan. But verification and validation are needed in this case,” he said.

On Thursday, a post by a netizen asking for prayers against possible terrorist attack because of the two foreigners circulated on Facebook and caused a stir among residents of the city.

The netizen said a concerned individual sent a text message to Fr. Eugene Elivera, informing about the two foreigners who seem to be surreptitiously taking photos and videos inside the cathedral.

“We need your prayers po. May concern citizen na nagtxt kay fr. Eugene na may mga kahinahinalang tao kanina sa simbahan.na di umano ay mga foreigners na tila nagmamasid at di mapalagay sa misa. Ngayong gabi po tsinek ni fr. Eugene, kuya Bench, at guard ang simbahan at CCTV footage po. Na kompirma po na tunay na kahinahinala po ang dalawang lalaking ar*** na nagsimba po kaninang 5:30 ng hapon. Maliban po sa pagmamasid sa buong cathedral. Sila po ay nangumunyon at ibinulsa lamang po ang ostia [sic],” the post said.

The post, which had already been taken down, said prayers and vigilance will help keep the church away from possible “terrorism.”

“Makibahagi po tayo sa pag-mamasid at pag sita sa mga kahinahinalang tao at ireport po agad natin sa ating parokya o security. Kng may maiiwanan man na kahinahinalang mga gamit sa paligid ng ating simbahan. Ipaalam po natin agad sa kinauukulan [sic],” the post said.

In a statement, the Immaculate Conception Cathedral confirmed receiving “texts from churchgoers about the suspicious-looking foreign nationals during the 5:30 p.m. mass.”

It also confirmed checking the CCTV and reporting it to “proper authorities.”

“We have received texts from churchgoers about suspicious-looking foreign nationals during 5:30 p.m. Mass yesterday. We checked with the CCTV. We have already reported the incident to proper authorities. We are thankful for vigilant citizens,” the cathedral management said in a text message.

But Fr. Elivera, when sought for comments by Palawan News on Friday, denied releasing any additional statement pending the verification being done by the authorities.

“Hindi na muna kami magsasalita as per advice na rin ng mga otoridad. This is for security reasons na rin and para hindi mag-cause ng alarm or panic sa publiko,” he explained.

On April 21, a series of coordinated terrorist attacks occurred in three churches and three hotels in Colombo in Sri Lanka which resulted in the death of about 253 people, including 42 foreign nationals.

The suicide bombers were allegedly Sri Lankan residents associated with the National Thowheeth Jama’ath, a local militant Islamist group with suspected foreign ties, previously known for attacks against Buddhists. (with a report from Aira Genesa Magdayao)

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has been with Palawan News since January 2019. She is its managing editor, overseeing and coordinating day-to-day editorial activities. Her writing interests are politics and governance, health, defense, investigative journalism, civic journalism, and the environment.